England needs a national transport strategy, say industry experts and Institution of Civil Engineers

  • The absence of an overarching vision for transport in England is hindering environmental and economic progress
  • Clearly defined outcomes and agreement about how to work towards them is what transport professionals need most
  • While some issues are UK-wide, an English strategy would be a ‘pragmatic’ first step towards long-term goals

Strategic transport objectives priority for experts and Transport Select Committee

Today, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has published a policy position statement, A national transport strategy for England, with a resounding call from transport industry bodies and experts in the sector: England needs a national transport strategy.

The ICE’s call comes as the Transport Select Committee announced a new inquiry on Strategic transport objectives on Friday. The new inquiry invites experts to submit evidence to inform how the government sets transport goals.

A national strategy should have net zero at its heart – and explain how to work towards it

The paper makes five key recommendations about what a national transport strategy for England should do and what it should look like.

It comes after an extensive consultation with transport professionals, industry, and civil society bodies earlier this year. The clear consensus from respondents was that the absence of a national transport strategy in England is impeding progress towards wider objectives like reaching net zero and addressing economic disparity.

The recommendations are:

  1. A national transport strategy for England should set out an overarching vision of a sustainable transport network.
  2. The strategy needs to establish a set of principles derived from its overarching vision that enable prioritisation of transport projects.
  3. The strategy should clarify the roles and responsibilities required of key stakeholders to deliver its overarching vision.
  4. A strategy has to be a long-term process which is agile and manages uncertainty.
  5. A future review should assess whether a UK-wide strategy is needed and how it could be developed.

Transport challenges best addressed by umbrella strategy

Respondents to the consultation agreed with the ICE that many challenges transport bodies face would be best addressed by an overarching strategy with net zero and equity at its core.

Those challenges include siloed thinking across different departments, organisations, and regions; long-term funding uncertainty; and the fact that transport planning is not well integrated with other planning, e.g., energy.

Jonathan Spruce, ICE Trustee for policy and external affairs said:

‘It’s rare to hear such agreement from the transport sector, but respondents to the Institution of Civil Engineers’ consultation were clear; we need to plan transport differently.

‘To meet England’s environmental, social, and economic objectives, government needs to define desired outcomes and commit at the highest level to seeing plans through.

‘It’s very encouraging the Transport Committee is actively seeking evidence on improving strategic transport planning, partially in response to the ICE’s work – we would welcome the chance to work collaboratively on this important issue as we strive to decarbonise our transport system.’

Why an English, and not UK-wide strategy?

It was also clear from consultation respondents that some transport planning questions, e.g., how to decarbonise air travel, are best tackled at a UK-wide level.

However, there was less clarity about how a UK-wide strategy could be implemented.

The ICE believes that establishing an English strategy, particularly focused on rail and road infrastructure, is a pragmatic first step.

Launching a national strategy for England would bring the country in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which all have their own national strategies, despite having much smaller populations.

A clear English strategy could be the basis for better collaboration between the four home nations.

Jonathan Spruce said:

‘Journeys and transport network infrastructure don’t stop at borders, and in the long-term, the whole UK will need to work together to answer questions like how air and maritime transport should evolve. To that end, the Government should publish a response to the Union Connectivity Review as soon as possible.

‘However, we need to make significant strides quickly. Developing a transport strategy for England will help end the cycle of transport investment decisions that are blinkered, funded in the short-term, and disconnected from greater social, economic, and environmental outcomes.’